Google Customized Search Engine

A Post from Jill

I recently had one of the most powerful learning experience of my professional career.  It came as I was piloting an integrated science/literacy project with a group of sixth graders in inner-city Oakland, CA. This Earth Science unit was designed to help students learn about climate change.

For six weeks, students explored science content using a range of disciplinary literacy strategies such as annotating text, analyzing evidence based arguments, and writing evidence-based explanations.  The first four weeks of the unit was teacher guided and involved students in reading articles, examining trends in graphs, working with animations/simulations, and discussing new understandings in pairs and small groups.

Drawing on the notion that deep, engaged learning occurs when students explore self-selected, open-ended questions about which they are genuinely interested, the last two weeks of the unit involved students in completing an inquiry project.  This project challenged the students to build on what they had learned during the first part of the unit and take it further by designing a tool, technique, or campaign to combat climate change.  Each group chose a focus (from a bank of five choices), conducted online research, and went about inventing a way to lessen the effects of climate change.  The design challenge Google site spells out the project parameters and the assignment guidelines.

To help scaffold students’ inquiry as they gathered information online, I opted to try out the free service Google offers for building a customized search engine (see  The customized search engine limits the Web sites that come up in search results, listing only those that are pre-selected by the designer/teacher.  Given the sheer volume of information on the Internet,creating a customized search  can be highly supportive option for novice Internet users.

Since a teacher can choose the sites she wants students to search, she can guarantee students’ searches will yield limited number of highly relevant search results, making the time learners spend online more efficient and purposeful. The advantages of narrowing searches to a more targeted and manageable size ensures that students gain valuable practice sifting through a limited amount of search results, freeing up time to put the information to use.

Having explored the use of a customized search engine, I can attest to its efficacy as a viable scaffold for online research.  I observed even the most novice Internet users successfully locate relevant, reliable information in a short amount of time.  I was elated to see students spend quality time digging into the resources they found, following the links to related sites, and  making a range of inter-textual connections to content within and beyond the unit.

To set up a customized search engine, simply set up a Google educator account, choose the Web sites and resources you would like students to access, then follow a few simple steps to create the search engine.  An example customized for sixth graders studying ways society can lessen the effects of climate change can be found at Combating Climate Change

Students spent three days gathering online information using the customized search feature, another two days synthesizing ideas, and two more days creating a Glog to share what they had learned. Finally, students made an oral presentation showcasing their ideas. The confidence students’ displayed as they discussed their final products with their peers was truly amazing.  Feel free to browse students’ work at the URLs below:

Using Spanish/English Cognates to Build English Academic Vocabulary

Using Spanish/English Cognates to Build English Academic Vocabulary

What is “Academic Language?”

Academic language is different from ordinary spoken English because it is the abstract language of ideas. Jeff Zwiers has defined it as “the set of words, grammar, and organizational strategies used to describe complex ideas, higher-order thinking processes, and abstract concepts.”  Students begin school with a fund of conversational language from their home culture, but in school they begin to use another language—that of learning in general and specialized fields. Zwiers refers to these as “bricks and mortar.” Bricks are the content specific vocabulary, like plate tectonics, while mortar are the general utility academic words, like analyze, define, summarize. In terms of vocabulary, we might compare this to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) vocabulary Tiers:

Tier 1 spoken, conversational words, like family, home

Tier 2 words and terms useful across contexts—the “mortar” words according to Zwier, like analyze, summarize

Tier 3 words that are bricks or content specific, like photosynthesis

For Spanish-speaking English Learners, academic language can often be a “third” language. Consciousness about cognates can assist these students to learn English.

What are Cognates?

Lubliner and Grisham (in press) define cognates as words that are spelled similarly in Spanish and English and share meaning due to a common Latin root.  Cognates are particularly plentiful in content area texts such as social studies and science books. For example, the word “nation” in English is “nación” in Spanish. Not all words that look and sound alike are cognates. The word “rope” in English has no relationship to the word “ropa” (clothes) in Spanish. Context is an important part of the strategic use of cognates.

Research suggests that up to 15,000 English words are Spanish-English cognates, including more than 70% of the Academic Word List (Nash, 1997; Hiebert & Lubliner, 2008).

Spanish/English cognates have some definite patterns that it is useful for teachers to know about.  For example, Lubliner identified some 21 patterns that occur with regularity in cognates and provided examples as shown in the following table:

Table 1: (Excerpt) Common English/Spanish Cognate Patterns

Pattern Orthographic Shifts from English to Spanish Pattern Examples Other Examples
1.  Same—Miscellaneous English and Spanish words are spelled the same (accents don’t count as differences) area/área no/no, Mexico/ México America/América
2   Same – al, il words ending with al, il are spelled the same in English and Spanish animal/animal total/total, hospital/hospital
3   same – ar, or words end with ar, or are spelled the same in English and Spanish popular/popular,color/color motor/motor, actor/actor
4   same – able, ible words ending with able, ible are spelled the same in English and Spanish visible/visible terrible/terrible, possible/posible
5  Same—able, ible A, o, e may be added to the end of the Spanish work, letters may be dropped or changed fruit/fruta, group/grupo,art/arte grade/grado, American/Americano, class/clase

A great deal has been written about false cognates (amigos falsos) and how they may mislead Spanish-speaking English Learners about the meanings of words. Probably the best known is “embarrasado” which doesn’t mean embarrassed, but actually means pregnant. However, one doesn’t have to look very far back in history to see that being embarrassed about being in “an interesting condition” was the norm for many women. A brief study into etymology can often clear these misconceptions up.

So we know that cognate strategy instruction isn’t 100% effective. There will also be some “Spanglish” words like “caro” that doesn’t mean heart, but instead means an automobile. I firmly believe we still need to teach the cognate strategy and, like all strategies for building vocabulary and world knowledge or comprehension, it pays to tell children to use critical thinking when they use cognate strategy or any other strategy, for that matter.

Shira Lubliner at California State University and I were awarded IRA’s Elva Knight grant in 2007, and we used the funding to conduct a study using Cognate Strategy Instruction (CSI) in fifth grade classes in a very diverse Northern California school. Our pre/post assessments showed that CSI was successful in teaching students to use cognates to comprehend English text. Qualitative data we collected was similarly positive—students actively read for cognates and many Spanish-Speaking ELs were talking in class for the first time.

So watch for the book chapter. If you are interested in cognates and learning more about CSI, please post a response to this Blog. I would love to provide additional information about the cognate patterns in Spanish/English and their relationship to academic English. If you are using cognates in your classroom, please share!

Here are some websites to look over!

  1. (This website is under construction but will be active around mid-April).
  2. (This is the most frequently used academic language list from Averil Coxhead’s academic word list—done by families of words.)
  3. (This is the homesite for CALLA or Cognitive Academic Language Learning—an instructional model for English Learners authored by Chamot and O’Malley).
  4. (This is Jeff Zwiers’ Language and Literacy website, with lots of resources for teachers).


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford.

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 213-238.

Hiebert, E.H., & Lubliner, S. (2008). The nature, learning, and instruction of general academic vocabulary. In A.E. Farstrup & S.J. Samuels (Eds.), What research has to say about vocabulary instruction (pp. 106–129). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (in press). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing powerful literacy tools to Spanish-speaking students. In J. Fingon and S. Ulanoff (Eds.). New research in literacy: Helping culturally and linguistically diverse students to succeed. New York: Teachers College Press.

Nash, R. (1997).  NTC’s Dictionary of Spanish Cognates.  Chicago, Il: NTC Publishing Group.

Google Lit Trips

A post from Bernadette
Lucy Calkins in the Art of Teaching Reading (2001) urges us to help our students to compose lives in which reading and writing matter. She noted that great literature helps us “to stand, feeling small, under the vastness of the Milky Way”. Google lit trips (the brain child of Jerome Burg, a retired high-school English teacher) allows students to travel beyond the mind’s eye, and take a virtual road trip, by satellite, navigating right across the world, viewing locations from the novel on the way. Lit trips help students, who are unfamiliar with locations within a novel, to recreate scenes  and become fellow travellers with the characters in the novel, visiting places the characters lived, where they struggled and where they overcome adversity. The site has won the 2010 Tech Laureate award. It provides us with a good example of a meaningful way to integrate literacy with technology and indeed the content areas.

Getting Started
Before visiting the Google Lit trip site you need to download Google Earth (a free downloadable program). You will need Google Earth as Google lit trips run off KMZ files. If you are not already familiar with the Google Earth interface take a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with the tool palette and side bars. Tutorial videos are available here. For example, you can record a tour using the camera icon; view historical imagery of place marks on the clock icon; and create place marks using the pin icon. (On the side bar, in the layers menu, ensure you unclick the layers when creating a Google lit trip so that you will only view locations within the novel).
Visit the Google lit trip web site for helpful webinars and examples of Lit trips created by teachers and their students. Lit trips are organized across grade level from kindergarten through high school to higher education. Google lit trips don’t stop at merely visiting locations or geographical features within the novel. Sample Lit trips on the site show discussion popup windows to help our students ‘linger and look’ (Calkins, 2001) and dig deeper with their responses to literature by making connections to themselves; to other texts they have read and to their own world experiences. Teachers (or their students) can create different levels of questions to spark meaningful discussions; and can provide links to other web sites to access crucial historical background information thereby enhancing meaning.

Sample Lit Trips
There were many readymade lit trips that caught my eye. I’ll mention just three to whet your appetite.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox (aren’t all of her books memorable?) a tale of Grandma Poss who makes Hush invisible to protect her from snakes. Seemed like a good idea except she doesn’t know how to make her visible again! The lit trip takes the reader to seven locations in Australia and provides imagery of various types of Australian food as Grandma Possum tries to undo the mayhem.
Going Home by Margaret Wild is a tale of Hugo, a child anxiously awaiting discharge from hospital. His hospital window overlooks a zoo and Hugo begins day dreaming of the natural habitats of a range of animals, such as, African elephants and Snow leopards. Antonella Albini, the teacher librarian, who created this lit trip provides helpful imagery, audio and video links to child friendly web sites such as, National Geographic for kids.
• My final choice is the compelling The Watsons go to Birmingham -1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. This is the story of an African American family whose lives become intertwined with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The teacher creator of the Lit trip, Heather McKissick, provides seventeen Question Stops along their journey with links to historical imagery and questions to spark meaningful discussion among her students.
I’m excited by the possibilities of Google Lit Trips. I am exploring online tutorials on the Google Lit trip site and YouTube videos to start building my own lit trip. Come Spring break I have my eye on The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (Red Fox, 1956). Let’s see how I get on!

Url links used in Blog

Google lit trips

Google Earth

Adopt a word…please?!

A post from BridgetOne of my grad students, Isabel Bauerlin, brought my attention to this quirky vocabulary website from Oxford University Press, Unusual (dare I say, archaic?) words call out to you when moused over, “Hey you, adopt me!”. Of course, with adoption comes commitment – you must swear to incorporate the word into your speaking vocabulary (well, okay, perhaps your writing vocabulary). Just for fun, hold a weekly adopt-a-word day in your class. Have two or three students make a case for adopting a word and then have the class vote for their “adoptee”. The challenge is to see how creatively the word can be woven into conversation in and out of class during the week. In no time at all, you will find your vocabulary knowledge gumfiating (swelling, that is!). Verily, your students will find this activity to be locupletive (enjoyable), contributing to the word consciousness and playfulness that is at the heart of vocabulary development.  Enjoy!

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